She remains with us
In August 1996, during the storming of Grozny, one of the most tragic episodes of the first Chechen campaign, when we were desperately seeking any means possible of assisting people fleeing the war, I suddenly received a call from Anna Politkovskaya.
For the first day of school on September 1 she wanted to publish a large portrait in the Obshchaya Gazeta newspaper where she was then working of a Chechen child who, clutching a bouquet of flowers for their teacher was going to a Moscow school. That was her innocently inventive way of fighting the Chechen phobia.
I replied that unfortunately, the Chechen kids who had ended up in Moscow would not be going to school that year. The Moscow authorities had just adopted a resolution stating that only children whose parents had Moscow registration – or the old Soviet “propiska” – would be allowed to study in the capital. And these childrens parents not only didnt have propiska, but they didnt even know how theyd find their childrens next meal. The storming of Grozny was underway, and people were fleeing wherever their noses led them. There was no one there to meet them in Moscow or in any of the other cities. Meanwhile, our organization was collecting money from friends and acquaintances to help the refugees feed themselves for just three or four days.
On the very next day, Anna Politkovskaya arrived at our reception office with money she had at her papers office, and took interviews of us and our visitors. Following this visit, a series of vivid articles followed about the plight of Chechen and other refugees in Moscow.
Our acquaintance began with that call, which was followed by cooperation which continued until the last days of Anna Politkovskayas life. During the second Chechen campaign, Chechnya turned into Annas main subject and place to which she traveled constantly. Chechnya transformed her, becoming the essence of her life
Her articles about the second Chechen campaign were for many people the only opportunity available to learn the truth, if they still wished to, that is. She not only wrote, but actually intervened on peoples behalf, demanding answers from investigators, prosecutors, and the military. She received threats, and not only in Moscow with phone calls and letters, but also at the scene in Chechnya, where she was threatened with immediate vigilante justice. I dont think its that Anna was not afraid – it was just that the things happening around her were so frightening that personal fear vanished somewhere into the background, becoming less prominent.
Anna responded to every appeal for help, to every anguished cry of pain. Our last work together was when Anna interviewed me in August of last year. This was one month after the night of July 12-13, 2006, when a group of young kids were slaughtered on the Chechen-Dagestani border. The kids were drawn there by provocateurs who put camouflage outfits on them and led them into Chechnya, where they were confronted with a barrage of gunfire.
Information about an averted terrorist act swept through all the international new agencies and could not be received as anything but a major victory in the fight against terrorism – now threatening Chechnya from outside its borders, since in the words of Ramzan Kadyrov, almost all of the bandits had been destroyed in Chechnya itself.
The young people had been recruited in the Khasavyurt region of Dagestan, where I was to arrive on 16 August and where over two days, I came into contact with17 families who in July had suffered this terrible tragedy. The mothers told me how their children had been invited to come out to the sea to talk about the fate of the Chechen people, and that there they had been dressed up as rebel fighters. The youngest one among them was 14. Thirteen boys were killed, five were wounded and miraculously escaped alive.
I returned to Moscow to discover that aside from an appeal to the prosecutor not to prosecute the survivors, but to investigate the provocation instead, I was unable to write a thing myself. Then I called Anna, told her about my trip and suggested she take my notes for her work. Anna came immediately, we went through my notes together, and a day later an article came out in which the truth was told about the brutal bloodbath in Khasavyurt.
That is how she wrote – quickly and honestly, not pausing to rest nor sparing herself in any way. And Anna demanded the same intensity from us – those who by custom are called human rights campaigners. She had the right to do so.
Her voice gained such urgency that it could be heard in the remotest corners of our little world. And it sounds today, it sounds after being picked up by hundreds of other voices across the globe.
I would very much like to see thousands of people from across the world come to Moscow on October 7 of this year. Just to visit the cemetery, to walk through the streets of Moscow with Anna Politkovskayas portrait. To show those who believed the words of the Russian President, that her “influence on the political life of Russia was minimal,” just how wrong he was.
Her influence will continue to grow. Her articles will stand up to indifference and passivity and will awaken the sleeping conscience. Anna Politkovskaya will stay with us. Her voice will still sound for a long time to come – for as long as there are those who need protection, whose pain has not been assuaged. New generations will read her articles, and it will help them accept the burden of responsibility for what is happening in our world.